One is lucky to eat like a Chettiar, they say in South India. Chettiar food is a feast for the gourmet. With a generous dose of pepper and not chilli, making it spicy but not hot. The spicing is subtle and its secret is the "instinctive hand" of the "Achi", dumping a handful of this and a pinch of that in the masala leading the tastebuds on a journey of intrigue and delight.
Chettiar hospitality is legendary. A stranger is welcomed, a guest is fussed over and any occasion is reason for a feast.
It is this lavish everyday spreads that has made Chettinad a culinary experience in its own right across the world. From the Kolakattai, a steamed starter to the pal payasam, the almond flavoured liquid dessert, there are a dozen varieties of main courses that's served in a typical course of the meal.
A festive Chettiar lunch is generally vegetarian. A wedding lunch generally comprises six grains, nine savoury sidedishes and six sweets (including fruit).
At the Bangala, the cooks use grinding stones to pulverize regional spices, deploying them in masalas for dishes like a sinus-clearing black-pepper chicken, sour-scented tamarind crab curry, king prawns flavored with spring onions, and, in a nod to the nursery palates of British memory, Raj-era dishes like mint-and-potato croquettes. Meals there are taken communally at a teak dining hall and eaten from banana-leaf with one's hands.
It's an innate sensitivity to the tastebuds, an inherited sense of economy and thrift and a deep concern that food should be tasty and healthy that's enabled generations of "Achis" to evolve the Chettinad cuisine of today.
An authentic recipe from the Chettiars to help you sample the fiery cooking style even before you try it at The Bangala.
Heat the oil. Fry cinnamon and cardamom. Add onions. Fry until onions turn golden in colour. Add ground masala pastes. Add tomatoes.
Add chicken and sufficient water for chicken to cook. Add salt to taste. Cook until chicken is three quarters done, reduce heat and cook chicken until it is tender and the oil floats on top.
Serve hot with rice, ideally on a banana leaf.